I’ve been reading about they way Jonathan Edwards pursued God. Here are three reflections that we modern Christians can learn from our 300 year old friend. (For more on the spiritual practice of Jonathan Edwards read Formed for the Glory of God by Kyle Strobel)
First, we learn to depend on God for growth in holiness. Edwards says, “attending and using means of grace is no more than a waiting upon God for his grace.” It is hard to overstate the aroma of independence that permeates our day. Self-help books fill the shelves not God-help books. Songs that top the charts resound with lyrics of human power where you are free to choose from a range of potent elements that represent your awesomeness: you can stand strong like titanium, shine bright like a diamond, or explode like a firework if you’d like. In the midst of an independence culture it is crucial for evangelicals to remember that God is awesome and we are dust, God is worthy and we are unworthy, God is able and we are unable. With this in mind, Christians can humbly attend the means of grace, positioned beneath their merciful God who is eager to pour out his blessings. Edwards helps us see that we not only need affections burning in the heart but we need God to light that fire and keep it hot. This very thing he is eager to do for those who come to him in humble dependence.
Second, we see the need to slow down and meditate. Edwards calls out to us, “Retire often from this vain world, and all its bubbles, empty shadows, and vain amusements, and converse with God alone; and seek that divine grace and comfort, the least drop of which is more worth than all the riches, gaiety, pleasures and entertainments of the whole world.” The pace of the modern world is incredible. Technology seems to pull us into a world of fascinatingly useless information that often does us no good. Not only is the content usually poor, but it also trains our minds to skim information rather than meditate upon it. Edwards teaches us to unplug from the content of the world and plug into on the content of heaven. We will find rich food for our souls as we carve out time in the midst of busy schedules to look into God’s word. We must also examine the content of our own souls in relationship to the word so as to deal honestly with God about what is going on inside of us. This process cannot be done in a hurry, so we must reject the lie that we are too busy and patiently commune with God in his word. Finding a place outdoors to meditate on the Lord, as Edwards often did, is a great way to slow down and turn our thoughts heavenward.
Third, we observe the blessing of engaging in spiritual conversation with others. Strobel writes in his work that “Edwards conferenced with fellow pastors both in person and by letter. He led his family in conference weekly, at the very least. He met with congregants for personal conference and led small groups in conference.” The art of conversation in general seems to be fading in our day. Many are more comfortable with e-mail and text messages than they are with conversation around the dinner table. If it is true that people are uncomfortable with conversation in general, it is all the more true that we are uncomfortable with conversation about our souls and our God. But the Christian life is too difficult to be lived in isolation; we need faithful companions on our journey to the Promised Land. Often spiritual conversation can be reduced to theological talk or a time of mere confession, but neither gets to the heart of things. Humility will help us move beyond heady conversation and deal with the heart. Wisdom will help us apply the Scriptures to what we find there, rather than just telling one another to do better. Many churches have a small group ministry that could provide an excellent opportunity for this spiritual practice. Contemporary evangelicals could be greatly edified by sitting down around the table and discussing the state of their souls and the grace of their God.